Why do we say that taking refuge in the Triple Gem is a manifestation of democracy? The root of this idea resides in the Buddha’s statement, “All sentient beings possess the Buddha Nature; all can become Buddhas.”
Everyone is equal in the Buddha Nature; every sentient being is a future Buddha, and all Buddhas were once sentient beings.
Because all sentient beings possess the Intrinsic Triple Gem, taking refuge in the Triple Gem is, in actuality, taking refuge in one’s own Buddha nature, Dharma nature, and Sangha nature.
There is an expression that states, “There is no inborn Sakyamuni; there is no natural Maitreya.” One who has great will and can emulate the diligent cultivation efforts of Sakyamuni Buddha and Maitreya Buddha will, indeed, eventually uncover their Buddha Nature. Democracy, in Buddhism, means continuously asserting, “I am the Buddha, I am the Dharma, I am the Sangha.”
This suchness* is as true for us as it is for the Buddha, hence the expression, “There is no difference among the mind, the Buddha, and sentient beings.” The Buddha’s insight into the intrinsic nature of all sentient beings elevated everyone to a level on par with himself. Is this not sufficiently democratic?
All of the world’s religions view their founders as gods and regard the holy as inviolable. But, the Buddha does not position himself above sentient beings; he sees himself as an enlightened sentient being, and sentient beings as unenlightened buddhas. There is no difference between one’s intrinsic nature and the original mind, also referred to as the Buddha mind. As such, to take refuge in the Buddha is to take refuge in one’s own original nature.
* Suchness: a term for the true nature of all things; the pure, original essence of all phenomena, which is called tathata or bhuta-tathata.